Wednesday, January 17, 2018

After All These Years In The News Business, Why Aren't You A News Director Or Executive Producer By Now?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
Because I don't want to be. That's the short answer.

Here's the longer one: I have seen what these jobs do the people who work them, and it's not pretty. I have seen their shoulders burdened with more work and worry and responsibility, some of which they shouldn't have. You might think this job would come with more control and ability to delegate. That's only partially true.

Let's take the News Director position. As I have learned and observed from others who have held this job, it involves more management than journalism. You get to set editorial policy and guide the newsroom's direction, but you're also dealing with budgets (which are never as much as you want), hiring and firing decisions (which are more frequent than you would probably like to make), and corporate types who are in the picture to make sure you are executing their strategy and not just yours. That last one leads to decisions you don't make but are made for you from High Command, whether they serve the purpose of better news coverage or not.

Executive producers have not just one newscast to oversee, but several for one daypart -- either morning or night. They are tweaking, correcting and making sure the programs get on the air not just technically clean but journalistically solid. They get to step back and ask, "are we doing enough on this?" or "are we finding the real story in this story?" or "are we really getting to why people should care about this?" They are focused on the big picture. At the same time, they are taking directives from the news director. And they do jump in and help write and arrange like a line producer does, sometimes more often than expected. I got a taste of what an EP does when I helped train an EP on line producing at our station some years ago. We essentially reversed roles. I was the seasoned producer, and this person was the rookie who knew how to put a newscast together -- just not on our computer system or with our equipment. I gave pointers where I needed, but I stepped back and let this person quickly get familiarized with everything. I found the role boring and a little unsettling. I didn't feel hands-on enough.

I remember The Peter Principle: everybody eventually rises to the level of their incompetence. I decided I would throw humility into that principle and realize where my boundaries were instead of trying to always push them. Some folks out there believe you're a failure in the news business if you don't make it to New York or Los Angeles or the networks. What garbage. I have told aspiring journalists not to let conventional wisdom and careerism guide their paths: if you're happy doing news in Kearney, Nebraska, by all means enjoy it and put down roots!

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